Month 5, Day 11
The lift door opened, and he walked down the corridor to enter Quarters 42. Wondering which station to start with, he glanced at both, then froze as the door closed behind him.
Coleen was home, and asleep, but not in bed. Her arms and head rested on the desk; her red curls scattered across the area. She fell asleep studying. Poor girl. If perseverance and effort were all it took, she’d be there by now. “I really want to stay here. Just tell me what it’ll take... So what’s next, sex in your bed?” Of course, if audacity was the key, she’d have gotten there long ago.
Stop thinking such things. I’m here to do a job. She may have left her computer on. He stepped closer until an odor reached his nose. Whiskey? Another look at the desk revealed a half-empty bottle, while a glass lay on its side between the keyboard and computer. No wonder she fell asleep.
I can’t work with her sleeping right there. I’d wake her. Now, that’s tempting. Stop it, you idiot. Get a hold of yourself. More to the point, she’d be in my way, and a constant distraction. I’ll take her to bed. As lust flowed through his body, he clamped his teeth together. Put her to bed, he corrected.
He took a breath and willed his body to be calm before he stepped around the desk. He was used to seeing her in a red uniform, so the dark green lace she wore was a surprise. The smooth cream of her back emphasized the green. He swallowed. There was no hint of any clothing under the green lace. I can’t carry her when she’s like that and not succumb.
Somehow, he managed to pull his gaze away and scurry to the bedroom, where he grabbed a blanket off a bed. Returning to the living room, he hurriedly draped the blanket over her. Granny used to wear a blanket around the house, especially in winter. She called it a shawl, but it was a blanket. But Granny didn’t wear green- That’s enough. Just remember Granny, and let the rest of it go. Now get her out of your way and get your work done.
Having given himself a stiff talking to, his hands barely trembled as he bent to pick her up. All the right curves, and plenty of them. Startled by the errant memory, his grip faltered, and she slipped away, tumbled to the floor.
He watched in regret as she not only didn’t wake up, but rolled to her side, pulling the blanket over her and up to her chin. “No school, ma,” she mumbled. “Let me sleep.”
Things are never easy when they involve her. He knelt to make another attempt to pick her up, but paused, trying to forget the half-seen body he would soon be holding. Space, I need a drink. His gaze went to the bottle on the desk, but at this angle, he saw something he hadn’t noticed before. A pool of pale liquid stretched from the over-turned glass to the computer base, where it had probably seeped inside.
Of all the blasted, idiotic things to let happen! “Colleen!” He shook her shoulder, no longer worried about her habitual lack of sleep. “Wake up! You’ve mucked up the computer!”
She sat up, but her open eyes were completely unfocused. “Not me, pa! I never touched it! Must have been one of the boys!” With a sigh of exhaustion, her eyes closed and she sank to the floor.
Pa? Ice slid down Smitty’s spine. She didn’t mean me. She was still asleep, dreaming of home. “Women can’t fix anything!” she exclaimed. Bugalu shrugged. “That’s how she was raised.” Is that her problem? A father’s cave-man mentality? He’s nowhere around, but if that’s how she was raised, I suppose some allowance has to be-
Her upper half was no longer hidden by the blanket, and he was off into a dream world of his own.
“Mr Smythe? Are you there yet?”
He almost snapped that he was busy, and the third party was not needed, but then he realized the voice had come over the intercom. All of engineering knows I came here. If I don’t answer, Peron might send someone to see what’s going on, and if that person saw her wearing... Oh, space. He raised an uncooperative arm to bring his wrist intercom toward his face. “Yes, I’m here.”
“Did you find the problem, sir? Do you need any help?”
Yes, definitely. Send somebody else, anybody else. Wait. And have that person find her practically naked? I don’t think so. “I’m... looking things over,” he managed to say, and refused to let his gaze return to the redhead. “I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, take the computers in this room off-line.”
He stayed where he was for another moment, trying to steel himself for embracing the woman long enough to get her to a bed. Even that no longer seemed like a good idea. Well, she’s not at the desk. If I can avoid stepping on her, and she stays covered, this might work. He fumbled blindly with the blanket edge, to pull it back over her top half. His hand brushed against smooth skin. Her nose? chin? something more intimate? He didn’t know, but he lurched to his feet, and searched his mind frantically for an opposing emotion as protection against her charms. He stared at the pool of liquid. “She’s made a mess of the computer,” he reminded himself.
“Not me, I-“ Her voice died away.
If she just stays asleep - and covered - then I might-
Suddenly, she was standing next to him, staring at him. “Oh, dear,” she breathed.
His head swiveled at the endearment, and his eyes started to lower for another peek of green lace. I don’t dare! He hurriedly bent to pluck the blanket from the floor, tossed it to her. “Cover yourself.” Grabbing the bottle from the desk, he started across the room, desperate to put some distance between them. I really need a drink!
“Smit?” came a tremulous query. “I... um...”
He stopped, the bottle halfway to his mouth. I’m on duty! How did I get into this mess? He recapped the bottle then slowly turned around. At least she’s covered. The blanket was pulled tightly around her. I can still see that she’s got a fantastic body.
“Um, why are you here?” she asked.
How long have I been staring at her? A simple task - a short in the computer - and the fact that she’s here has me completely distracted. I should have been done long ago. What must Peron think? Everybody knows she sleeps days, if and when she sleeps. They must be wondering what’s taking so long. No, they aren’t. They’re sure they know. The rumors about me and Wilson were bad, but this will be 100 times worse. And not that far from the truth. If Peron hadn’t interrupted-
“Smit?” Her voice was so soft, he hardly heard her.
You’re a fool, Smitty. After this, the whole ship will know it. “There’s a short in your computer,” he stated. An idiot and a fool. Stop thinking with your hormones!
She looked confused. “Computer? No, it’s fine.”
He pulled his gaze off her, focused on the computer. Can’t she see it flickering? Well, not when she’s asleep, I guess. And definitely not now that it’s off. “Might have been when you fell asleep. But your drink spilled, and seeped inside.”
Her face blanched, and she whirled to face the desk in horror. Muttering in a language he didn’t know, she started to wipe at the puddle with the blanket.
He hastily looked away as she let go with one hand to make more of the blanket available. “Stop that!”
“But you said-“
“I told you earlier to cover yourself! I expected you to keep covered!”
“What?” She was confused again, and stared at him for a moment before she reluctantly peeked under the blanket at herself. “Oh!” She whirled and headed for-
“Where are you going?” he demanded. Idiot! It’s obvious!
She stopped and slowly turned around. Her face was red, and the blanket - now damp and mussed - was pulled so tightly around her that it seemed it must give up and rip into shreds. “I’m... I’m not dressed for company,” she said in a tiny voice.
“I’m not company!” he declared.
“You could. I mean... if you wanted.”
What’s she saying? That she’d welcome me as a guest, a... lover? He banished the thought. “I came to do a chore.” He approached the computer.
“I’m sorry I’ve caused problems, but I’ll take care of it.”
Take care of it! He stared at her in disbelief. She hasn’t even passed her communications test, let alone computers or engineering! Such a lovely face. Space, it’s hot in here. Got nothing to do with actual temperature, I bet. “Why are you here, Colleen?” he heard himself croak.
Her eyebrows pulled together in confusion yet again. “This is where I live.”
“I know that!” he declared. “I meant, why do you exist?”
Her face flushed as she struggled to say, “My parents love each other.”
A red-haired couple in the throes of sex- “No!” He thrust the mental vision away.
Her jaw tightened in anger. “You don’t know anything about them! I’m pretty sure Ma loves Pa, at least!”
“I didn’t mean that, either! Why are you on the Fireball?”
Her anger drained away, confusion was back. “I was transferred here,” she answered. Her eyes slid away from him in embarrassment. “Not that it was easy.”
Does that mean- “You requested the Fireball?”
“Umm...” She licked her delectable lips as she considered that question, and he had to pull his thoughts back to the here and now. “ ‘Demand’ might be a better word,” she admitted.
He was shocked. “You came here specifically to drive me crazy!”
That startled her. “What?”
Why can’t I keep my mouth shut! She didn’t know I existed before she arrived. She’s been driving me crazy, true. Now that she knows it, she’ll try harder. As if she needs to try!
“Bugs was here,” she stated simply.
His entire body turned to ice. Bugalu. That’s who she came to be with. If she flirts with me, it’s to soften me, get past probation. It’s nothing personal. She’s got no... feelings... for me. Having been pushed far beyond the point that any man should have to endure, he took a drink from the bottle in his hand. I should use a glass, or I’ll drink the entire bottle. He started for the liquor cabinet. No feelings for me at all.
“That’s the only brand I have, Smit,” she said.
“What?” He turned around, surprised she was still there.
“Of whiskey,” she stated. “That’s the only brand I have. If you want something else, Della has some, but I only have whiskey, and only that brand.”
Whiskey? He looked at the bottle. Oh, space. You’re on duty, Smitty. No time to get drunk. “I’m fine.” He recapped it. Better put this away; she sure doesn’t need any more. He opened the liquor cabinet. “I’ll have somebody-“ Wait a minute. On one side of the cabinet were single bottles of vodka, rum, and gin, with various levels of liquid. Those must be Harris’. On the other side were 2 unopened whiskeys. Of the same brand as I’m holding. That’s 3 bottles, all anyone’s allowed on ship. But I’m sure I found an empty of this brand outside these quarters that night she got drunk. That would have been 4. Too soon for her to get any from supplies, plus they don’t have this brand. “You must have laid in a supply on shore leave.”
He placed the half-bottle beside its siblings. “How much?”
“I don’t remember the price I paid.”
How many have tried to play a game of innocence with me? Space, how many times did I play it with my superior, back when- “How many bottles did you get?”
“I’m only allowed 3 bottles of liquor at a time.”
So far, it’s a game. He closed the cabinet. “How many bottles did you buy?”
“Not as much as I’d wanted.”
She’s stubborn. “I see 2 and a half bottles in there now,” he stated.
“I’ve tried to be frugal.”
“Except when you fail probationals?” All the color drained from her face, and she leaned heavily against the desk. Why did I have to say that? It obviously distresses her. Or... is this more of the game? “MacGregor admitted you were drunk when you couldn’t report for duty. I already suspected it, because I’d found an empty bottle outside your door.”
She swallowed and barely uttered, “I have 2 and a half bottles.”
“The empty bottle I found was your brand.”
She took a deep breath and regained some composure. “Interesting. But I have 2 1/2 bottles.”
“Plus, you gave a bottle to Bugalu, just after shore leave.”
She gazed at him with a masterful look of confusion. “No, I didn’t.”
I know that’s a lie. “I caught you coming out of a jeffries tube with the bottle under your arm. You were on your way-“
“Oh, that. It wasn’t for Bugsy.”
Someone else? MacGreg? She wasn’t headed in the right direction. None of my business. Well, yes, it is, if it means- “Then you did bring more than 3 bottles on board.”
She studied him for a moment. “You said yourself, I have 2 1/2 bottles.”
She’s going to stick to that assertion. Knows better than to admit to anything I can’t prove. And I can’t prove it, because right now, she’s got less than 3 bottles. I can’t even prove there ever was a 4th bottle, because I don’t know who she gave it to. Without knowing that, I can’t prove she left the empty outside her quarters; it could have been... the other person. I don’t lose this game often.
“Go to bed,” he told her in resignation.
She stood up slowly, her face full of uncertainty. “Bed?”
How does she put so much invitation into 1 word? He cleared his throat and started for the door. “Get some rest. I’ll send... someone for the computer.”
“No need. I can-“
“You won’t!” he exclaimed, stopping short. “Go to- Get some rest! I’ll send a tech.” Green eyes blinked at him a couple times, and he turned to face her squarely across the room. I clean up my own messes. She didn’t acknowledge my instructions, so later she can claim she didn’t understand them. Sly little vixen, isn’t she? “Maybe you think you can wriggle around me, Colleen, but I’m watching you.”
She blinked again, then her face suddenly lit up. “You are? Good!”
He was shocked by her reaction. What does that mean? He turned and hurried from the room.